The man on the left was a zoology student; the man on the right was a trainee manager. Now Tom Beney and Arlo Mills are Gleeds’ green experts, dispensing sustainability advice to clients and the QS itself. Caroline Stocks met them.
“There’s always a risk birds will fly into the blades and get chopped up,” says Gleeds quantity surveyor Arlo Mills as he stirs sugar into his tea. “So, if you’re thinking about putting wind turbines in a nature reserve, you need to do a study on bird kill to find out what the potential risks are.”
Dead birds are not a topic you would expect QSs to get excited about, but it’s some of the work taken on by Mills and graduate trainee QS Tom Beney as part of becoming Gleeds’ experts in sustainability. Both self-confessed “greenies”, their main role is to research the costs and sustainability options open to developers, from basic paper recycling to solar panels and the not-so-bird-friendly wind turbines.
Mills and Beney had varied backgrounds before becoming sustainability experts. Construction graduate Mills, 35, joined Gleeds two-and-a-half years ago after spending several years on a management-training course with Sainsbury’s and working as an mechanical and electrical QS. Beney, 28, completed a degree in zoology from Newcastle University before taking an MSc
in environmental economics. He went on to work for a wind farm developer before joining Gleeds 18 months ago. He is now studying for a MSc in quantity surveying at South Bank University alongside working at Gleeds.
It was a chance conversation with a senior partner after only eight weeks at the firm that led to Beney taking on the sustainability role. After explaining his interests and ideas, he was paired with Mills and the two set about researching sustainability options and developing a cost-management service. A year later, Mills and Beney have established themselves as the key information source at Gleeds regarding sustainability.
“We spend a lot of time just informing people,” explains Beney. “People think the green option is very expensive, so we just work through the options with them. Very often we can find things that are cost-neutral, or even save money.”
Changing government legislation and growing interest in corporate social responsibility mean sustainability is becoming a key element in developments. Mills says many sustainability principles have been available for years, but people need to be helped to create a “more structured agenda” so their sustainability targets become reality.
“We often get sent briefs to look at what sustainability options can be added to developments, whether their targets are realistic and what alternatives we can suggest,” says Mills. “It is possible to achieve all of their objectives, but you have to have a structured approach and split it into manageable portions.”
I don’t expect people to follow my lead but it’s better they consider what I’m saying and doing and don’t stick two fingers up at it
Tom Beney, Gleeds graduate trainee
The pair say they have come up with a core set of options they can suggest to firms that are interested in sustainability. “Looking at minimising waste is a key thing,” says Beney. “From the domestic level, such as having recycling bins for glass and paper, to construction, a lot can be re-used.”
It is not just other firms that Mills and Beney are encouraging to think about sustainability. The pair have given Gleeds’ office in central London the once-over to see how the firm could think more carefully about its sustainability practices. After speaking with the facilities manager, Beney and Mills drew up a wish list of the measures they wanted to introduce at Gleeds.
“We have put in place a number of practices,” Beney says. “We’ve got recycling bins on every floor, light sensors in communal areas and we buy low-carbon energy from good carbon sources. I also try to walk up to my office on the fourth floor rather than use the lift.”
But does Beney and Mills’ status as Gleed’s resident greenies irritate colleagues who don’t want to use the stairs?
“I don’t expect people to follow my lead,” Beney says. “But it’s better they consider what I’m saying and doing and not stick two fingers up at it.”
Beney’s working life is a careful balancing act between his sustainability and QS duties. “I spend a lot of time researching because of my inexperience in the industry, but I have to continue with my studies and other work. I can’t let any of it suffer.”
Beney says he sees a lot of people who joined the company at the same time as him who are doing pure quantity surveying and have lots of projects on the go, but says he does not feel he is missing out.
“I have to balance it out, but my work is exciting – it’s what gets me up in the morning. Everybody at my level comes to us for information, so there’s no resentment. I’m doing different work. Arlo and I can add value to their working day, and that’s great.”